INDIANAPOLIS – The message to Reggie Wayne and Dwight Freeney: Maybe next year.

The Indianapolis Colts’ icons were denied in their pursuit of a spot with the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2023, which was revealed Thursday night at the NFL Honors show.

Wayne was in his fourth year of eligibility, had reached the Final 15 for a fourth time and made further inroads to Canton. After failing to make the initial cut to 10 modern-era candidates in his first three years, he reached the final 10 when the Selection Committee – I am one of the 49 selectors – met via Zoom in January.

Freeney, in his first year of eligibility, didn’t make the cut to 10.

Each should return as strong candidates for the Class of 2024.

Wayne admitted he’s “become numb’’ to making the Final 15 only to be denied each time.

“Does it matter to me? Yeah, it matters to me,’’ he said in December. “I’m just as excited as my first year.

“But I don’t think anyone likes the process or what it takes. What’s hard is when you have no control over that. You don’t have any control. When you don’t know what matters, when you don’t know what the criteria is, it’s hard. You just go crazy.’’

The issue with Wayne isn’t his worthiness for a spot in Canton. He ranks No. 10 in league history in receptions and yards, and is No. 5 in receptions and No. 7 in yards in postseason history. Wayne and Jerry Rice are the only wideouts to rank in the top-10 in the regular season and postseason in both categories.

Hindering Wayne’s path to Canton is a numbers game at the position, which has resulted in a logjam.

Joining Wayne in the Final 15 this year were Torry Holt and Andre Johnson. Holt is in his ninth year of eligibility and Johnson his second. All three have reached the Final 15 the past two years.

During the January vote, Wayne, Holt and Johnson made the cut from 15 to 10. While that boosted optimism that one of the wideouts would finally earn enshrinement and ease the gridlock at the position, they divvied up the votes to the extent no one received the required 80% support.

From the lengthy debate among selectors, it was clear Wayne, Holt and Johnson are considered worthy of induction. Each compiled impressive careers. Each had legitimate strengths to consider.

In essence, it’s which flavor do you prefer?

When it came to the final vote to 5, they split the vote and cancelled each other out.

“When you don’t get the call or the knock, it jabs you a little bit harder,’’ Wayne said of falling short the previous three years. “It just keeps getting longer and longer as far as the receivers go.’’

Freeney considered being among the Final 15 modern-era candidates “a blessing.’’

“It means the world to me and my family and everyone who helped me on this journey,’’ he said in December. “Whatever happens, happens.

“I’m not in control of that. I’ve done what I can do.’’

The Class of 2023:

  • OT Joe Thomas
  • CB Darrelle Revis
  • CB Ronde Barber
  • LB Zach Thomas
  • DE/LB DeMarcus Ware
  • Don Coryell (coach/contributor)
  • CB Ken Riley (senior)
  • LB Chuck Howley (senior)
  • DL Joe Klecko (senior)

Klecko’s 12-year career ended in 1988 with the Colts.

The Class of 2023 will be enshrined Aug. 5 at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.

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